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Posts Tagged ‘war’

What He Knew and Why They Did Not

Posted by heyrandy on January 7, 2012

The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor Robert Theobald, 1954.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise to the Hawaiian commanders, Admiral Kimmel and General Short, but others in the military knew it was coming. Theobald, a subordinate of Kimmel at the time of the attack, argues that President Roosevelt knew that the Japanese planned to attack the United States. The United States knew this because of United States’ ability to read the coded Japanese communications. This vital information was not shared with the men in Hawaii, but the President and the Secretaries of State, War and Navy knew it.

Why were Hawaiian commanders not told? This is the big question. The author’s answer: FDR wanted the Japanese to attack so the Germans would declare war on the U.S. pursuant to the Tripartite Pact. This would enable the U.S. to come openly to the aid of the British. Before you dismiss this as a paranoid conspiracy, consider what the U.S. had done to Japan.

Extended financial and military aid to China

Stopped Philippine exports to Japan

Froze Japanese assets

Blunt statements to Ambassador Nomura

Termination of the Washington conference

There are other troubling questions. The British were given copies of decoding machines the U.S. developed to read Magic and Purple Japanese codes. Why was Britain given these machines when Britain was not yet at war with Japan? Why was the U.S. forces at the Manila headquarters given the Magic and Purple decoding machines when Pearl Harbor did not get them? Possession of the machines allowed the Manila commanders to have vital intelligence as soon as it was available. Why did the War (Army) Department not correct General Short’s wrong interpretation of the confusing Department directive? Short took action to prevent sabotage and report these efforts to the Army. General Marshall, Army Chief of Staff and Short’s superior, never explained why he did not tell Short he got the directive wrong. Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, said he did not tell Kimmel because he was following orders. Orders from whom? The only one superior to Stark (and General Marshall) was the President. The department Secretaries were administrative figures without command authority.

Theobald also reviews the eight Pearl Harbor investigations. These affairs did little to reveal any truth. Investigators badgered witnesses into changing their testimony. Testimony by obfuscation by senior officers was widespread. Evidence was buried in massive volumes of paper. Temporizing was common. It is telling that neither Kimmel nor Short were ever given a court-martial. This would allow them to vigorously cross-examine witness, and more importantly, subpoena documents. This could not be allowed to happen.

The book is easy to read. It provides a concise introduction to the Pearl Harbor fiasco.  My only objection to the book is the title. There is yet more to be revealed about Pearl Harbor. If you want to know more, start here.


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The Best View of the War

Posted by heyrandy on December 3, 2011

Five Years to Freedom, James Rowe, 1971.

My only thought was that war was always more glorious when watched on film. p303

This is a story of courage and will. It is the true story of one man’s struggle to stay alive and sane while being held in horrible conditions for five years as a Viet Cong prisoner. Captured in 1963, Lt. Rowe endured repeated bouts of debilitating dysentery and beriberi, constant malnutrition, and clever psychological  manipulation. He survived while three of his fellow prisoners died.

After his 1960 graduation from West Point, Rowe was assigned to a special forces unit in Vietnam as an adviser. He was captured when the Vietnamese unit he was with encountered a larger than expected enemy force. Two other Americans were also capture with him.

Rowe soon began the horrible experience of living in a small cage, subsisting on an almost rice only diet. The degrading conditions would induce three other prisoners to simply lose the will to live. In those conditions it was easy to die. Rowe almost took that path. Physical weakness coupled with hopelessness can be a powerful incentive to quit.

The prospect of release was always held out to Rowe. All he had to do was cooperate. This would have betrayed his oath to uphold the Code of Conduct, but it would have certainly gained him better food if not release. The propaganda effort against him was intense. Constant “lessons” in socialist doctrine as well as a steady stream of “You are loosing the war. Why waste your life?” talk was difficult to resist.

Rowe presents a perspective on the war that no longer common. We mostly look back on the war as a giant mistake. Rowe presents the U.S. involvement in a good light. A few years and generations make a lot of difference. They also make no difference. The arguments his captors made against American involvement in Vietnam sound a lot like the arguments made against American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book is not about the politics of war. It is about the courage of one who fought in it. This is why you should read the book.

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The Life After the Life Before

Posted by heyrandy on December 1, 2011

Warday and the Journey Onward, Whitley Strieber, 1984

America has been partly nuked. DC is gone. So is San Antonio, the Dakotas, and much of Russia. The electromagnetic pulse from the weapons has destroyed most electronics. Death from starvation, disease, and radiation poisoning are common. So is euthanasia.

A spark of hope set in the scene of gloom. 1992 is the setting, four years after the warday. Two men, reporters for the Dallas newspaper, decide to write a book about life in post war America. The research the book by traveling in a grand circuit from Dallas to California, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York (where one of the men lived on warday), down through the south and then back to Dallas.

They interview people of all types by getting them to talk into a recorder. The monologues are revealing, Tragedy, hope, greed, and courage come through. California is a police state. Entry there is not permitted without prior authorization. Illegals are severely punished. (One researcher got two years in prison, the other three. Their escape from the bus on the way to prison is not believable.) Southern Texas is now in the hands of Mexico, but the Governor of Texas wants to raise an army to reclaim the land. The Mexicans want to take California. Everywhere there is radioactive dust. Medical care is severely rationed–by the British.

The two men get copies of government documents to show more of the story. It is fun to read artificial government-speak. Bureaucracy never dies. It just adjusts to the situation.

The book is about the future of post-war America. The future is hopeful. I actually expected the book to end with the married man returning home to have his wife tell him she was pregnant. I guess some devices are best unused.

The book is average for post-apocalyptic tale. It doesn’t take long to read, but unless you are really a fan of the genre, give the book a pass.

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Its Bureaucrats versus the Terrorists

Posted by heyrandy on October 30, 2010

Operation Dark Heart, Anthony Shaffer, St. Martin’s Press, 2010.

This book is the account of Lt. Colonel Shaffer’s experiences in Afghanistan as a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) member. Shaffer’s ostensible role was to develop intelligence to use in the Afghan war. His actual role was to fight the bureaucrats that are hindering the war effort. Some success was achieved against the bureaucrats in spite of the bureaucrats best efforts. The real battle, Shaffer says, is to get the different agencies to cooperate.

To see how the agencies fight, just look at the history of the book. The manuscript was cleared for publication by the Army. After printing and just prior to being sold, the DIA bought all the copies and insisted on another round of redactions. The book bears the evidence of the redactions in the black lines that are on most of its pages. Some of the redactions are a little odd. On page 114 the first sentence has a redaction of what looks like one letter in a word. Other places have names blacked out that seem to appear a few sentences latter.

The various intelligence agencies that make up the US intelligence apparatus are very jealous of their information and sources. It is always a turf war. Shaffer managed to break through this while in Afghanistan, but a lot of people in his agency did not like it. They did not forget it, either.

The bureaucrats have a long reach. Shaffer was persecuted because he spoke to the official 9/11 commission about how the project he was working on before the attacks, Able Danger, had identified two of the three terrorist cells as well as the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta. Shaffer told the commission that the information was passed up to his superiors so they could pass it along to the FBI. The FBI never got it. This action could have embarrassed the DIA. In bureaucratic terms, this was the unpardonable sin. The DIA started to comb though all of Shaffer’s past looking for dirt. They found $300 worth. Shaffer had his security clearance suspended over three petty matters that even if they were true the would not have been pursued if he was still attached to the Army. But the DIA need its pound of flesh.

The book also details some of Shaffer’s personal life, such as his divorce and his almost second marriage (they broke it up on the morning  of the wedding day). But the book deals mostly with his experiences in the wars against the terrorists and the idiots. One thing that I found most troubling about his personal life was his relationship with a woman he call Kate. She was a non-commissioned officer and he was a major. This fraternization is a major offense in the military. If the DIA wants Shaffer, he put his head on the block with this admission.

While Shaffer has some good things to say about the general staff, he regards most of them as bureaucrats in uniform too averse to risk to do any good. Most of these guys are so afraid that something bad will happen on their watch that they play it safe. This allows the Taliban to make great gains. Careerism is the enemy’s best weapon.

Shaffer also says that refusal to adapt to the changing tactics of the Taliban is hindering the battle. The military is hide bound by its established procedures. Success on the battle field is defined as following defined military doctrine. This has resulted in a military force that is cumbersome, slow, and ineffective. We don’t think like the Taliban, Shaffer says, we think the Taliban think like us. Until this changes, we are doomed to an endless battle.

Shaffer concludes his book with a list of things to change to achieve success in Afghanistan. I disagree that victory is possible. The Afghanis have defeated every empire that was foolish enough to try to take their land. They will defeat the Americans too. Without men like Shaffer, it will be a lot easier.



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Across the Ocean on a Wire Came a War

Posted by heyrandy on June 27, 2008

The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara W. Tuchman, Ballantine Books, New York: 1958, 1966. 195 pages, index, end notes.

There is no modern method of communication more obsolete than the telegraph.  It is difficult for most modern minds to even conceive of such a slow and clumsy system.  Yet the telegraph provided the first high speed, world wide communications.  The telegraph cut transatlantic communication time from days to mere hours, minutes for those who had private lines. (Remember this when you think that dial up Internet service is slow.)  Today the telegraph is a museum piece, replaced by the telephone and the Internet.  But in the early 20th century the telegraph was indispensable, especially to the world powers.

For all its benefits, the telegraph was the instrument of doom for Imperial Germany.  It was through the telegraph that an injudicious message was sent by Germany’s foreign minister to its ambassador in the United States.  It was this coded message that provided the final force the United States needed to enter the Great War on the side of England.

As the book’s title claims, the telegram was from Zimmerman, then German foreign minister.  The telegram, intercepted and decoded by the British and later given to the Americans, outlined a plan that Germany hoped would keep the Americans out of the war in Europe.  The plan called for the fomenting of a war between the U.S. and Mexico with Japan joining the Mexicans.

The German hope was that this fight along the southern U.S. border and in the Pacific would keep the America out of Europe should the U.S. ever give up its neutrality and side with the English and the French.  The plan, if enacted, would also require Mexico to cut off its oil shipments to England.  The prize for the Mexicans would be the regaining of the territory they lost in the Mexican-American war.  The Japanese would get all they could grab in the Pacific without the Americans to stop them.

The plan was bold, audacious; some may say reckless, but Germany was desperate.  The telegram, once exposed, had the opposite effect; it caused the Mexicans and the Japanese to deny any such offer had been made to them.  It caused an explosion of outrage throughout the U.S., especially in Texas.

Germany thought that America’s entry into the war would be of little consequence since she could not train, equip and transport enough troops to Europe in time to make a difference.  Germany was relying on its submarines to strangle England and France in to peace talks favorable to Germany.  If the Americans were too busy fighting the Japanese and the Mexicans there would be little chance of the American Army coming to Europe.

Had the submarine strategy been the only element of this plan, it is probable that the English and the French, especially after the withdrawal of the Russians, would have capitulated.  Both nations were destitute and worn down by the fighting.  Both nations had spent themselves into bankruptcy and suffered horrendous losses but obtained very little gain.

It was the telegram that made the difference.  Once America entered the war the Germans were doomed.

Along the way to this the author reveals the perfidy, schemes, ploys, deceptions and foibles that accompany statecraft.  It is a case of personalities, egos, pride, and stupidity versus cunning and skill.  Without the blunders the successes would have been less significant.  Without the pride, even racism, the stupid mistakes would have been avoided.  It was Germany’s sense of superiority that blinded her to the possibility that her code had been broken by the British.  If the Germans had given the matter some thought, they would have realized or suspected how the Americans got the telegram. They may have changed codes.  If the message had been sent by another means not subject to British spying, the scandal would might never have occurred.  If Zimmerman had not publicly admitted that the telegram was genuine, the effect of its revelation would have been muted.

It is really these types of things that make the book worth reading.  It delves into the behind the scenes events that so affect the way thing are done in public.

The telegraph is history.  So is the War to End All Wars to Make the World Safe for Democracy.  What continues, unabated, is the machinations, and blunders, of the powerful that seek more power.

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